An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Enniscorthy, County Wexford
Roll number: 63570W
Date of inspection: 7 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Bride, Enniscorthy. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Coláiste Bride is an all-girls secondary school with a current enrolment of 744 students. Physical Education is a core subject for all junior cycle students and for those that follow the optional Transition Year (TY). All of these students receive a double period of Physical Education per week, with the exception of one class group which receives two single periods per week. The time allocation at junior cycle and TY is adequate to implement a comprehensive physical education programme and is in line with circular M15/05, which recommends a minimum of one double period per week for the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus.
Fifth and sixth-year students following the established Leaving Certificate receive one period of Physical Education per week. This timetable arrangement is regarded as inadequate as it is significantly less that the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. It is very difficult for students to achieve a meaningful level of engagement with the focused topics in lessons of single period duration. It is best practice that all classes be timetabled for a minimum of a double period per week to allow for in-depth study of the focused topics and for full exploration of the practical activities. It is regrettable that students who are involved in the choir and students following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are not timetabled for Physical Education. There is a danger that senior students, who have their timetabled access to Physical Education reduced or removed, may form the perception that engagement in physical activity is of a low priority in their development. Whilst it is acknowledged that some of these students may participate in the school’s extra-curricular physical activities programme, it is important that all students have access to Physical Education through the formal curriculum. This is particularly important for teenage girls who are most susceptible to early dropout from sport and engagement in physical activity. A comprehensive physical education programme can help students examine the role of physical activity in leading an active and healthy lifestyle. Therefore, it is recommended that the school re-visit its timetabling arrangements for Physical Education with a view to providing the subject for all students in accordance with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science.
The physical education department consists of two teachers who are graduates of the subject. Due to illness, management has had to source a substitute teacher to act as a replacement for one of the qualified teachers. Substantial efforts were made to employ a qualified physical education teacher, but these proved unsuccessful. However, arrangements have been made to continue the physical education programme for students with a substitute teacher under the direction of the qualified physical education teacher. The substitute teacher has a range of qualifications in a variety of sports and particularly in dance, which has proven to be beneficial in enhancing the physical education programme. Management is acutely aware of the health and safety considerations and every effort is made to ensure that teachers are timetabled concurrently to minimise any potential risk. Where this is not possible, only activities that do not present a high health and safety risk are taught. Whilst this is not an ideal situation, it is commendable that most of the components of the physical education programme have continued to be delivered insofar as possible.
Support for continuing professional development (CPD) is good and teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend relevant courses. The school was one of the initial pilot schools for the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus. The physical education department has actively engaged in the in-service programme for the revised syllabus and has also hosted an in-service day for the new “Action for Life” health-related fitness educational package. In addition, the school has participated in a number of initiatives including a TY module with the Volleyball Association of Ireland (VAI) and has also hosted a number of undergraduate physical education students to conduct their teaching practice. The commitment to ongoing professional development is commended and it is recommended that teachers continue to maintain active links with the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI; www.peai.ie), the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS; www.jcpe.ie) and the Physical Education, Physical Activity and Youth Sport (PEPAYS; www.ul.ie/pepays) organisations.
The range of facilities and resources in the school is very good to support a comprehensive physical education programme. These facilities are very well maintained and include a large sports hall with a balcony area and an adjacent classroom. This classroom provides a valuable space to support teaching and learning in Physical Education as it can be used as a research room, laboratory and theory classroom. An extension of the school’s broadband access to this room is planned and, once completed, will enhance the range of online resources accessible to students and teachers. The sports hall was built in 1995 as a result of donations from parents and the local community and provides an excellent multi-sports facility. The addition of a fitness suite in the basement area of the sports hall also provides a valuable resource to develop the concepts of health-related fitness and to apply the principles of fitness training. The school has a playing pitch and a sizeable hard court area. In addition to the on-site facilities, the school avails of a nearby swimming pool and leisure centre for some physical education lessons, as well as local squash and tennis courts and golf course. The school is located at the foot of Vinegar Hill, an historic location that is often used by the physical education department to provide cross-curricular activities by linking hill-walking with historical and geographical studies. The use of all of these additional facilities is highly commended as it adds considerable breadth to the physical education programme and allows students to experience the range of opportunities available to them to engage in physical activity within their own community.
The storeroom is fully equipped with a substantial range of equipment to support all of the strands of the syllabus. Additional or replacement items of equipment or resources are purchased on a needs basis and it was reported that management is very supportive of all requests. A health and safety statement is in place in the school, which also addresses aspects specific to Physical Education. The physical education facilities and equipment are subject to regular health and safety audits, which is good practice. There is good signage in the sports hall and students’ attention is drawn to procedures for their safe participation in all aspects of the physical education programme.
Support for the extra-curricular physical activities programme is commended. A wide range of team-based and individual activities is provided for students as part of this programme. The diversity of the range of activities ensures that the programme is attractive to most students. Access to the fitness suite provides senior students with a great facility to improve their general physical fitness in a non-competitive environment. In addition to team-based competitive activities, students are provided with regular opportunities to experience alternative activities at a recreational level such as dance, fitness training and recreational games. This is admirable practice as it caters for those students who may not wish to take part in competitions, but who still wish to accrue the benefits of participation in organised physical activity. The school has also established a number of links with local clubs such as the rugby club and the rowing club. These links have resulted in the school competing against another local school in tag-rugby blitzes and the establishment of an indoor rowing event, whereby younger students are encouraged to complete a set distance on a rowing ergometer. Students may repeat this activity on a number of occasions to reduce their personal-best time for the distance. This is an innovative way of establishing personal fitness goals and developing a purposeful approach to physical fitness amongst younger students. Once the habit of regular physical activity has been established and the benefits of physical fitness have been accrued, students are more likely to remain fully committed to a physically active lifestyle. The involvement of a number of staff members in the organisation and coaching of all of these extra-curricular activities is highly commended. These teachers play a valuable role in enhancing students’ positive experience of sport, physical activity and school life, all of which contributes to an active and healthy school community.
Subject department planning is facilitated by senior management through the allocation of three formal meetings per year. The school also operates a system of shortened class periods one day per week, which results in an additional period being available to senior management and teachers to facilitate planning or staff meetings. This system has been arranged by senior management to enhance the quality of planning and collaboration, whilst also maintaining the required number of tuition hours, as per circular M29/95.
Both members of the physical education department act as joint subject co-ordinators and are happy to distribute the duties of subject co-ordination equitably. Minutes of formal planning meetings are maintained by the physical education department, which is good practice. These documents provide a valuable record of the issues discussed and actions taken to enhance the quality of Physical Education in the school. In addition to formal planning meetings, the physical education teachers also meet informally and support each other in the planning and preparation of resources and facilities for their physical education lessons.
There has been good engagement by the physical education department in the subject planning process. The planning frameworks promoted by both the junior cycle Physical Education support service (JCPESS) and the school development planning initiative (SDPI) have been adopted and are effectively used to guide the structure of the subject plan. There is clear evidence of collaborative planning in the design of the subject plan. This is linked to the overall school mission statement and is developed to fit into the whole-school planning framework. This good practice promotes consistency amongst all subject departments in the school. The subject plan documents the overall aims and objectives of the subject, time allocation to Physical Education, planning for students with special educational needs, access to resources, health and safety and some cross-curricular planning. Planning for assessment of students’ progress and attainment in Physical Education has also begun and a range of appropriate formative and summative approaches is identified.
The subject plan also includes an outline of the programme of work for each year group, which is mostly in line with the syllabus guidelines. Some additional planning will be required to structure the placement of the activity modules to ensure that all strands of the syllabus are adequately covered over the course of the junior cycle. It is recommended that the documented programmes of work be further developed and expanded. The programmes of work should aim to identify the desired learning outcomes, teaching and learning strategies, resources and possible modes of assessment for each module and topic. This will help to provide an easy reference guide to support teaching and learning in each activity module and ensure that students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed in a coherent and incremental manner. It is also recommended that the physical education department plan for the acquisition of some information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and identify specific opportunities within the subject plan for its inclusion to enhance the learning experience of students.
The programme of work for TY students includes a range of activities that are appropriate to the TY programme. Students are provided with a choice of option modules that include coaching pupils in a nearby school for children with learning disabilities, involvement in the VAI “spikeball” coaching project, as well as modules in self-defence, dance, health-related fitness and swimming. There was evidence of extensive planning to ensure that these activities are well organised. The programme for fifth and sixth-year students has a strong emphasis on games, with some focus on dance and health-related activity. It is recommended that this plan be revised to build upon students’ junior cycle experiences through more in-depth study of the factors underpinning engagement in physical activity and sport. It is important that the key learning outcomes are clearly stated in the subject plan for all activity modules. An integrated theoretical and practical approach should be taken to facilitate senior students to reflect on factors that affect performance and participation in physical activity, as well as improve their own performance in the selected activities. Students should aim to learn how these factors may be applied in a variety of contexts such as health and wellness, leisure and recreation as well as performance in a variety of individual and team-based physical activities and sports. To this end, the physical education department could engage with the sport education model, which aims to study all aspects related to participation and performance in a selected activity.
The physical education department monitors and reviews all programmes and plans on an ongoing basis and this was evidenced in the minutes of formal meetings. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that some element of student input be included to enhance the review and planning process.
In addition to the subject planning documents, the physical education department has also acquired a considerable range of resource materials, which are beneficial to planning individual lessons in Physical Education. A display of an array of posters and charts in the sports hall, balcony, classroom and fitness suite ensures that students are regularly exposed to the spectrum of anatomy, basic physiology, components of physical fitness, exercise techniques, nutrition advice as well as sports-specific information and useful contacts. This level of purposeful planning is commended and was clearly evidenced in the manner in which individual lessons were well planned.
Teachers have developed a clear system for the commencement of lessons to ensure that attendance is recorded, the sports hall and equipment are prepared and time for learning is optimised. Students demonstrated familiarity with this system, which resulted in an expedient commencement of lessons. In the lessons observed, the topics taught were fielding games and team challenges. Teachers introduced the content of the lessons and in some cases shared the learning intentions with the students. It is recommended that the sharing of the intended learning outcomes be extended to all lessons to help students remain focused on their learning. To assist with this practice, it is recommended that a white-board be placed in the sports hall. This resource can also be used to highlight key technical points, identify the set tasks and record students’ ideas or responses.
Lessons commenced with warm-up activities, which were related to the topic of the lessons. During this phase of the lesson, the teachers asked students questions to determine their level of understanding of the principles of warm-up and the purpose of each activity. This is good practice as it encourages students to establish causal relationships between exercise and its influence on aspects related to physical functioning and wellbeing in addition to performance in sports.
The tasks set in lessons were engaging and challenging for students of all abilities. When active, students demonstrated high levels of enjoyment and enthusiasm for the activities. There was a commendable emphasis on challenging students to be cognitively involved in their lesson. Teachers used higher-order questioning effectively to engage students with the key concepts of the activity and this strategy promoted more in-depth learning. The team challenge activities were well selected and appropriate to promote students’ learning of the social concepts of cooperation and effective communication. Similarly, tactical awareness of striking height, pace and direction and opposition team positioning was well developed through clear teacher instruction and student discussion. As a result of this approach, students’ awareness and learning of these concepts improved as the activities progressed.
However, some thought should be given to the organisation of the practical tasks and the balance between teacher and student input. In one instance, the amount of time spent in the organisation of groups, demonstration and explanation resulted in long periods of students being passive in the learning process. It is important that instructions are short and focused to maintain a high level of student engagement and activity. Similarly, the organisation and structure of tasks should be re-examined to ensure that all students are actively engaged. Long periods spent observing or queuing may result in students becoming disengaged from the learning process. In such cases, additional tasks and smaller groups would have resulted in much greater student engagement in the application of the key concepts of the lesson. It is recommended that teachers consider the work-to-rest ratio when planning practical tasks to ensure that all students are sufficiently engaged in both the experiential and reflective aspects of the learning process. In this way, students learn from direct purposeful engagement through the application of the key teaching points, and also from time to reflect and analyse their own and their peers’ performances against set criteria.
Inter-personal relationships were good and this helped to create a respectful learning environment in all cases. Teachers assisted individual students that required additional help in developing their technique or understanding of each task. Such attention is encouraging to students and was well received in all cases. Some strategies have been developed for the inclusion of students who are unable to participate in the physical activities of the lesson, which is good practice. The further development of these approaches to ensure that all students are fully included in the learning process is recommended.
Time was taken at the end of lessons to recap on the nature and purpose of the activities and tasks, to reinforce the key points and to introduce the content of the next lesson. This is good practice as it helps students to view their learning as part of an inter-connected series of lessons rather than isolated learning experiences. Students were co-operative and assisted in putting away and storing the equipment and adhered to a positive code of behaviour at all times.
Teachers maintain records of students’ attendance and participation in their physical education lessons. Informal methods of assessment are used regularly to determine students’ knowledge and understanding of the focused topics through oral questioning, whilst students’ engagement and progress is assessed through teacher observation. A range of formative and summative assessment strategies is also used including self and peer assessment, worksheets and reflection as well as summative question papers at the end of some modules. To advance the assessment process further, it is recommended that students’ work be documented to produce a portfolio of learning. This may include written documents, movement analysis critiques, as well as electronic video clips documenting students’ progress in the acquisition and application of learned skills and concepts. This will provide a valuable record from which to base feedback to parents and students regarding achievement and attainment in the subject.
Reports on Physical Education are sent to parents twice per year and these reports contain a comment from the physical education teacher on the overall performance of each student. It is commendable that teachers consider students’ efforts and attitudes to learning in Physical Education when determining their comments for school reports. The physical education teachers attend parent-teacher meetings, which are held annually for each year group. The student journal is also used as an effective form of communication with parents. The structures in place in the school for the recording of students’ performances in physical education lessons and reporting to parents are commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008